Behind every great creation there has to be unseen worlds of work, planning, preparation, invention, discovery, exploration, organization, and cooperation in order to produce the finished product—the thing that’s seen!

Nearly every great building, every great accomplishment, every great movement, or every change in society takes months and years of advance planning. Every one of Michelangelo’s paintings was planned beforehand with meticulous care. He did a lot of work before he began the final painting.

It usually takes a lot longer to plan a building than it does to construct it. I once built a small church building, and it took me a long time to select the property, design the church and draw up my plans, gather the building materials, prepare the ground, and lay the foundation than it took for the actual construction—-building the walls and putting the roof on. By comparison, that was the fast part, the enjoyable part, the stage where everyone could really see progress.

The people that got excited as they saw the walls and roof go up only saw the smallest part of the job. Every contractor loves to start the actual construction of a building, the part that onlookers praise him for—-the visible! But it’s the invisible, the below the surface, long hard hours and days and weeks and months and sometimes years of planning that are the hardest. This takes the most time. The contractor won’t get much credit for it, but without it there would never be a solid, safe building.

Ask any engineer, designer, or inventor. The pleasurable part is seeing the finished product—-like a flashy new car that the public raves about. Very few people appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it—-the months and years of research and development, of trial and error. They can’t see or understand the intricate wiring, the complicated mechanical and computer systems that lie beneath the surface, all of which are far more vital to the efficient operation of the vehicle than the nice shiny polish and paint job! But what appeals most to people who are buying a vehicle? It’s the looks of the product, the pretty surface, the color, the shape, the upholstery, and the accessories. They’re usually not interested in learning about the complex mechanism of the engine, the transmission system, and all the other complicated parts.

Even a simple meal can take hours of thought, organization, and labor to prepare. It then appears and is only appreciated for a few minutes—-and it’s gone! The diners can’t possibly appreciate all the time and effort that’s gone into it in the few moments that they enjoy it, unless they have been cooks themselves and know the work involved.

That’s really the way it is with most things in life. Consider a banana. It appears on our table and is consumed. All the hard work of the banana farmer is invisible. The months or years of planning, clearing the land, plowing, planting, growing, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting, transporting, and marketing—-all of this is unnoticed behind that little banana! As consumers, all we have to do is peel it, put it in our mouths, and momentarily enjoy it without any thought of the hard work behind it.

Another example is our clothes. I don’t know what it took to design them, not to mention all the problems of growing of cotton and making it into thread, or the engineering and fabrication of synthetic fibers, or the weaving of that thread into cloth of complicated patterns of different colors and textures. How many people know much about the raising of sheep, the shearing, or how wool products are manufactured? Think of the elaborate machinery that must be involved, as well as the years of planning, invention, and labor that have gone into the manufacturing of all the different types of cloth available today.

And that’s not to mention the dyes that make the colors so appealing. That in itself is a complicated, long, drawn-out process which was only learned through the experience and planning of years, through the discoveries and inventions and trials and errors, and joys and heartbreaks of generations.

Then the clothing manufacturer has to design the garment and decide how to cut the cloth, how to put it together, and how to make it fit — waist size, length, what shape it should be, how it should hang, and what it should have in the way of pockets, loops, buttons, and zippers. We don’t think about most of these things when we buy a clothing article. All we usually look at is the size, style, color, or pattern and simply decide whether or not we like what we see.

We don’t begin to appreciate the years of unseen labor and invention behind our clothes. Think of all the behind-the-scenes time, thought, and labor behind one garment! We just see it, buy it, wear it, and don’t worry about it. But it took somebody — or a lot of somebody’s — years of time and thought and invention and discovery and labor to produce it.

Every bit of food we eat, the clothing we wear, the buildings we live in, the vehicles we travel in, and the little necessities of everyday life are often just the temporary visible end products of generations of thought, invention, discovery, experimentation, designing, planning, and producing by a world of laborers with a world of labor. It reminds me of what Jesus said, “Others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:38).

As it is in the physical realm, so it is in the spiritual. God’s labors are almost completely invisible. The constant care of His creation, you and me, as well as this earth and the universe are carried on in that behind-the-scenes workshop, the unseen realm of the spirit. This is why Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2), and, “the things which are seen are temporary” — only the momentary visible manifestation of all the work behind them — “but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18)—the spiritual world which produced them, the power and planning of God! We don’t even know how He did it. All we do is enjoy and benefit from it. We can’t even comprehend it. All we can do is use and thank Him for it.

Maybe you’ve been tempted to look at a big business or organization and wish that you were the boss, so that you could enjoy the recognition and wealth and be able to tell other people what to do. But you are usually much better off to simply work eight hours a day and not have any of the worries that the boss has. He has to work at all hours, and have all the worry! Until you’ve been the boss, you couldn’t possibly comprehend all the problems, difficulties, obstacles, troubles, and complications that he has to face. And ultimately the boss has to be willing to take the blame for the failures, as well as credit for the successes.

King Solomon once observed, “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet… but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Being in charge and accountable for the welfare of employees, businesses, and organizations is usually much more responsibility than enjoyment, much more hard work than pleasure. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns observed when the whole world was toasting his fame, “Would that I were back with the wee small daisy.” He wished that he was a small boy again, gazing in wonder at the tiny flowers on the Scottish heather without a care in the world—a world that didn’t even know he existed. But now that he was successful and famous, he had to worry about his work and his writing, his success or failure, and the opinions of others. He no longer had time to enjoy the simple little things of life, or even the poems about them which had made him great. He was too busy!

So you’d better enjoy being a foot soldier while you can, with very little worry or responsibility, credit or blame, cursing or fame. One of these days, you may be the general and have most of the work and nearly all the worry, and usually all the blame! You look at godly leaders, and you think, I wish I could be like him or her! I wish I had their position. Watch out! Some day you may have to be a leader, but wish you weren’t! You cannot begin to fathom the depths of despair, the heartbreaks, the trials, the tribulations, the bitter experiences, the fires of testing they have had to go through to make them what they are today — the heat of the furnace they have endured before becoming that they now are!

Don’t ask for leadership. Don’t even desire it. You don’t know what you’re asking for. Don’t try to be a leader unless God pushes you into it and you have to be. For now, just be thankful that you don’t have to do the leading, make the decisions, carry the burden of responsibility, and suffer the blame when things go wrong. You don’t realize how much goes into leadership — all those years in the school of hard knocks gaining the wisdom and experience they need through years of success and failure, suffering, following, obeying, and training. You don’t see the grades they had to take over again, the unseen labor, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the agony with the ecstasy — all that goes into the making of a leader.

Leaders are made, not born. They’re the brief and final products of God’s infinite care, designing, and preparation—here today, and often gone tomorrow. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). It takes so long to grow into full bloom that the actual span of leadership is usually short by comparison to the years of preparation.

Don’t envy those whom God has called to places of responsibility and leadership — pray for them and help them. Don’t desire leadership unless God forces it on you. I dare say you’ll not find a leader in the Bible who wanted to be a leader. Most of them tried to get out of the job—it was too hard and they never got enough credit for it — but without them, God’s work could not have continued.

Just appreciate the end product. Enjoy it, follow it, and help it—and be thankful you don’t have to be one unless God makes you! Nearly every great leader in the Bible had to be pushed into it. Only in the folly of this world do men fight each other for fickle fame and fortune. Only in the sickening system of this world do men struggle for power, position, riches, and glory, only to find that it doesn’t satisfy! Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world, yet he died drunk, weeping that there were no more worlds to conquer. Napoleon made all Europe to tremble at his feet, yet he died in exile, whimpering like a baby, asking to have his boots pulled on, that he might die like a soldier. Or Julius Caesar, whose friends stabbed him in the back at the pinnacle of his fame. All these men died with the sad realization that the glory and power they had striven for was vanity.

They paid such an awful price for temporal fame and glory, when it wasn’t worth it. They sacrificed everything for it, only to discover it was ashes between their teeth. Husks! Husks! Like the Prodigal Son in the swine pit, whose life ended in defeat. He wasted his life in riotous living, so that there was nothing left but the “husks that the swine did eat,” his salvation only the mercy of God, and his reward lost to his brother (Luke 11:15–32). What a pitiful end do the ungodly men of this world have, as do even some Christians who turn their backs on God and fail Him. At least God’s leaders who pay the same price and make the same sacrifices can look forward to eternal rewards and everlasting glory. When their time comes, they can die with a feeling of genuine permanent accomplishment. They have to their credit a lifetime of investment in His work that will reap eternal dividends hereafter.

But you’ll never know what they went through to get there until you’ve gone through it yourself, and nobody in his right mind would ever do it for anybody but God and His children! Most of your work is unseen and will never be known by anybody but God and you and perhaps a few of those closest to you. Most of your sufferings, your sacrifices, and your years of labor will never be appreciated in this life nor realized by others until the rewards are handed out in Heaven.

You may say, “Lord, we are able” (Matthew 20:22), but you don’t know what you’re asking for. Don’t desire leadership unless God makes you lead, unless the time comes when you see the job that has to be done and there is nobody else to do it but you, and you know you have to do it — it’s God’s will, God’s plan, and you’re ready, even if you don’t feel like it!

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death!”

Alan Seeger (1888–1916)

That’s what it costs to be a leader—to live in fame and die in flame, or to sometimes they live in flame and die in shame before the world! True leaders are God’s expendables, created to burn out on His altar of sacrifice, made to wear out as His tools of design — to die, that others might live. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). We “die daily” to the flesh that others may live in the spirit (1 Corinthians 15:31).

After years in the making, preparation, and planning, you may only be a brief flare that lights up the landscape for but a moment in the heat of battle, that the victory may be won. But if so, that lifetime of preparation is worth it all. It may only be for that “moment of truth” and recognition by the Lord, that moment of usefulness that you were made for, that day when you stood in the gap, that hour when you met the need, and you can hear His, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23).

You’ll never appreciate godly leaders unless you have to join them in leadership. You’ll probably never fully appreciate God until you join Him in the hereafter and see what it really cost Him—how much time it took, how much infinite care, love, and patience, how much unseen labor went into the final product — little old insignificant you and me!

“Therefore … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:1–3, 5–6).

Do you still want to be a leader?

So You Want to Be a Leader?, Copyright © 1998-2012, The Family International